Traumatized Butterflies


I’ve got two things running around in my head right now (significantly neither one of them are my final undergraduate paper I should be working on right now) and I want to put them both into this blog entry, but I don’t know how well they’re going to fit. They’re connected but maybe not connected enough? Who can tell without trying.

Also I feel odd and nervous because when I finish this, my next step is to go email a link to this blog and a few other things to my entire class. Some of them may look, some of them won’t and it’s fine either way but it’s quite an entry to start with. Hi friends, if you’re here. Nice of you to stop by.

The way to begin both of my thoughts is with a little bit of background. I am about to graduate college. Assuming I finish this last paper anyway, but let’s not concern ourselves with that. I’ve been planning various things for the past few months, including the normal things, I suppose. Where will I be living? Where will I be applying for a job? Who will I be inviting to the ceremony? Where can I throw a huge party for a large number of people I love to celebrate me? What do I think about possibly allowing my parents to speak to me again? Okay, one of those is probably a less common problem.

However, in answer to all of them:

  1. Moving in with David and the Superhero and I am SO EXCITED.
  2. Don’t talk to me. I don’t even want to think about it. I AM applying but ugh, it’s awful.
  3. I have ten invitations to the actual ceremony and so many more than ten friends but I now have it down to eleven and that’ll just have to do.
  4. NYP has a party room that they don’t charge for and we can stay as long as we want. Sweet deal! So far my confirmed guest list is at almost 30 and I am beyond excited.
  5. See Below

A couple of months ago I began to toy with the idea of allowing my parents limited access again. I had details pretty much all worked out, I was only waiting on some stability. Initially my plan was if I got into grad school but, when that didn’t happen, I shifted it to waiting until I got a job and felt more comfortable with whatever my new life looked like. No one can make me feel like a failure as fast as my parents, so I wanted to make sure I was on good ground when I made that decision. Still, I felt good about it overall. I didn’t particularly need to see them again but I felt like I could see them again and maybe it would be a healthy thing for me to try. Also, I was curious.

At the same time I have been making my guest lists for my graduation. I’ve been very excited. I love parties and this is like getting to have two birthday parties in one year. For the actual ceremony I invited my mother’s whole family, which was kind-of essential. My aunt and uncle have allowed me to stay at their house rent-free for two years so…. kind-of required? And the family is sort-of a package deal (last time I graduated I invited only my aunts and my aunt and uncle just showed up). My parents were also on the guest list, because it seemed like the right thing to do. And there was a part of me that wasn’t sad about the idea of them seeing me surrounded by people who were proud of me when I knew they wouldn’t be. That wasn’t the reason, but I’m being honest and including it because it was there.

Last weekend my brother messaged me to let me know my parents were not coming to my graduation.

To be specific, my parents are coming to the party afterwards but they are not sitting through the ceremony.

I don’t know what their reasoning is. I can speculate, and I certainly have but it doesn’t really matter. None of it really makes sense. If mom is angry and trying to punish me, why are they coming to the party? If they don’t want to see me, why not come to the ceremony, where they can more easily avoid contact? No amount of turning it over makes it make sense. I am sure if I confronted them there would be a reason. One of them would tell me that they were sure that I didn’t really want them there (again, why come to the party? or why not at least tell me you weren’t coming so I knew I could invite extra people?), or that they thought the party was more important, or that they didn’t feel like sitting through a graduation. I have no idea what they would say but they would say something.

What I know is that my parents cannot be bothered to come to their daughter’s graduation.

This extremely long introduction is what leads me up to my two thoughts. One of them is what I was thinking about last night, and it is something I have thought about a lot over the last three years, about my parents in particular and about toxic parents in general. It is a speech that Sidney Poitier gives to his father in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. What I took from it is not the point of that movie in any way, but it still rattles around my head a lot. The whole thing is great (watching Sidney Poitier lose his mind always is) but the part that stands out to me is –

You tell me what rights I’ve got or haven’t got, and what I owe to you for what you’ve done for me. Let me tell you something. I owe you nothing! If you carried that bag a million miles, you did what you’re supposed to do! Because you brought me into this world. And from that day you owed me everything you could ever do for me like I will owe my son if I ever have another.

The first time I watched that I felt it everywhere. It was the opposite of everything I had ever been told or taught, but I knew it was true.

My parents had over 28 years with me before I walked away. In all of that time it was me who scheduled time with them, who begged for my father to come see me once I was living on my own, who called them, who initiated every conversation. They had so many opportunities to get to know me and yet the best case scenario here is that they don’t know me well enough to understand that something like my graduation is important to me. They are incredibly angry with me because they feel I owe them and I have backed out on a bargain. But no one ever asked me to sign.

I won’t be re-initiating contact with them.

The second thing is something I read on Facebook today, about butterflies. I don’t even know if it’s true.

“Do you understand what happens to a caterpillar once it’s in its cocoon? It completely turns into goo. That’s right, GOO. The damn thing dissolves and then reforms into the butterfly. Even crazier, the wings of the butterfly are already inside the caterpillar, ready to go, just waiting to float around in some goo and then be a beautiful butterfly. The craziest part?!? A study was done where some caterpillars were exposed to a certain smell and then given an electric shock so eventually the caterpillar associated the smell with the shock. Well after those little hairy noodles came out of their cocoons as butterflies, they exposed them to the smell again and the butterflies reacted super negatively, as if they were being shocked. A.K.A. not only is there wings floating around in that goo cocoon, there is also a brain, the same, unaltered brain as the caterpillar. The butterfly can recall its days as a caterpillar even after basically being turned into soup. And then it all somehow gets its shit together to be a stupid majestic little beast, and I can’t even remember where I put my damn phone.”

So I have not looked up this study. I have no idea if it’s true. And let’s not think too hard about the idea that somewhere in the world there may be scientists who are being paid to shock caterpillars (academia is genuinely the weirdest fucking place) but like a lot of these things it doesn’t actually rely on truth for it to resonate.

See, what’s most upsetting to me about all of this is how upset I was. I was so angry when my brother told me. I sent him a text message swearing at my parents (which I never do, I try to keep my brothers out of our whole thing as much as I can), I messaged a whole lot of people. I swore, I cried, I hit walls. I reacted MUCH more strongly than I would have expected. I took a shower and yelled at my parents the whole time (I was alone in the house, for the record). And then the next night I got ridiculously black-out drunk and David had to put me to bed and everything was the worst.

The worst part about all of this wasn’t even being upset, it was the idea that parents could cause that reaction. It was the feeling that maybe I haven’t really changed. I’ve worked so hard, I have been through so much, I really thought I grieved and processed and fell apart and came back together and I truly, truly thought that I was good. And then this like single thing happens and it all goes to hell?

BUT. None of that is true. It was a shitty 24 hours, it totally was. I am definitely still angry at them in a low-key kind of way. But probably it’s more like the butterfly. I absolutely did go through all of that. But before I did there were more than a few people who did a whole lot of shit and my brain still remembers all that. That is, after all, the reason I had to leave in the first place. And just because my brain (and body) still remembers what it was like to be in that traumatized place, doesn’t mean that things are the same. It just means it can take a minute to remember that I’m actually safe.

I can live with that.



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